George Lettrich, Jr.

Despite another man's credible confession, George Lettrich, Jr. was convicted of murder

George Lettrich, Jr. was convicted and sentenced to death in 1950 for the murder two years earlier of a 10-year-old girl in Cook County, west of Chicago. The conviction rested on a confession that Lettrich signed after 60 hours of questioning by Lyons, Brookfield, and Chicago police.

A few days after the crime, another man confessed to the director of a county psychiatric clinic that he had committed the crime. Authorities ignored the other man's confession and proceeded to bring Lettrich to trial.

Lettrich repudiated the confession, claiming it had been coerced during sixty hours of interrogation by Chicago police. He said one officer threatened that "he would knock my head through the wall and go on the other side and make mincemeat out of it." Police denied any coercion and the statements were admitted into evidence even though, as the Illinois Supreme Court would find, they did not "coincide with many of the known facts and cannot be entirely true."

The Supreme Court reversed and remanded the case for a new trial in 1952, saying that the other man's confession should not have been suppressed. The court also found that the prosecutors had "made inflammatory and prejudicial remarks to the jury." Prosecutors dropped the charges in 1953.

Case Chronology

December 17, 1948 — Ten-year-old Roberta Rinearson leaves her home in Brookfield, Illinois, to take a bus to attend a movie in nearby LaGrange.

December 18, 1948 — The child’s body is found in a ditch near Elmhurst. She has been raped and strangled.

December 22, 1948 — Herlindo Perez Arias, a thirty-one-year-old mental patient, confesses to Dr. William H. Haines, director of the Behavior Clinic of Cook County, but Haines, in deference to doctor-patient confidentiality, says nothing.

December 30, 1948 — Arias commits suicide, but Haines maintains his silence.

July 27, 1950 — Two girls, a ten-year-old from Cicero, and a twelve-year-old from Berwyn, report that they have been sexually molested by a man in a forest preserve near Lyons.

August 10, 1950 — Thirty-six-year-old George Lettrich, Jr. is arrested while sitting on a park bench waiting for a bus at the western edge of Chicago.

August 11, 1950 — Lettrich signs a written statement confessing to the crimes against the two girls who had reported being sexually molested the previous month.

August 13, 1950 — Lettrich signs a written statement confessing to the murder of Roberta Rinearson.

August 13, 1950 — Authorities take Lettrich to the Rinearson crime scene where he “re-enacts” the crime before some 150 spectators, including reporters, photographers, and police officers.

April 2, 1951 — Lettrich is found guilty of molesting the two girls — crimes he now contends he did not commit — and is sentenced to one to ten years in prison.

October 18, 1951 – Lettrich is found guilty of the Rinearson murder — which he also now denies — and is sentenced to death in the electric chair by Judge Crowley.

November 9, 1951 — Judge Crowley sets Lettrich’s execution date for January 19, 1952.

January 15, 1952 — The Illinois Supreme Court grants a stay of execution stay to allow Lettrich to appeal.

September 18, 1952 — The Illinois Supreme Court reverses Lettrich’s murder conviction and grants him a new trial, finding that there was “not a scintilla of evidence” connecting him to the crime “except his repudiated confession.”

April 20, 1953 — Prosecutors drop charges against Lettrich.

Case Data

Defendant: Geroge Lettrich, Jr.
Date of crime: December 17, 1948
Place of crime: Cook County, Illinois
Jurisdiction: State
Type of crime:Murder
Defendant’s age at time of crime: 34
Defendant’s gender: Male
Defendant’s race:White
Defendant’s prior adult or juvenile conviction record: None
Victim: Roberta Rinearson
Victim’s gender: Female
Victim’s race:White
Victim’s age at time of crime: 10
How defendant initially became a suspect: Arrested in vicinity of crime after girls, ages 10 and 12, claimed he had molested them in a forest preserve in Lyons, Illinois.
Date of arrest: August 10, 1950
Type of proceeding resulting in conviction: Jury trial
Date of conviction:October 18, 1951
Principal evidence presented at trial purporting to establish guilt: Defendant’s confession
Was conviction ever affirmed on appeal? No
Date of release:April 20, 1953
Total days incarcerated: 953
How case was resolved: Dismissal of charges following reversal of conviction
Date of resolution:April 20, 1953 (same as date of release)
Factors leading to resolution: Confession or implication of another suspect (Herlindo Perez Arias), police misconduct (allegedly brutal interrogation), prosecutorial misconduct (inflammatory closing argument).
Individual(s) responsible for bringing miscarriage to light: Original defense lawyer (Assistant Cook County Public Defenders Robert E. Harrington and Irwin D. Bloch)
After exoneration, was defendant charged with or convicted of another crime? No

— Billy Warden